Arkansas sheriff resigns after leaked audio of racist rant draws protesters, backlash

A sheriff in Arkansas resigned after audio of a racist rant was leaked online.

PINE BLUFF, Ark. – A casual conversation at a grocery store in DeWitt, Arkansas, led to a racist rant between now resigned Arkansas County Sheriff Todd Wright and the mother of his child, Desiree Middlebrooks.

Middlebrooks was on the receiving end of verbal threats from Wright after she made a friendly encounter with a Black employee. She secretly recorded Wright as he expressed rage and repeatedly used a racist slur against Black people.

A special Quorum Court meeting was held Friday morning at the Arkansas County Courthouse to discuss Wright’s behavior and present a resolution requesting his resignation.

“After viewing and hearing the video I was terribly upset to know that we have someone out here that’s supposed to be taking care of us, protecting and serving to have that kind of opinion of me – I’m using me as a race because of my color,” said Justice of the Peace Inez McLemore.

McLemore expressed the fear she had for inmates the Sheriff Department oversees.

“If the head is corrupt, the whole body is corrupt,” McLemore said.

In a limited capacity of 90 people allowed in the courtroom due to COVID-19, many community members expressed their hurt, anger and outrage among themselves as they waited for their turn to vocally express it directly to Wright, who sat in the corner of the courtroom.

With his body language slouched in his chair, he addressed the room stating what was done was in the privacy of his own home. Blaming his actions on the devil, Wright said the video was recorded because he was mad at Middlebrooks because he missed a funeral of his friend, who was Black.

He also mentioned many of his Black constituents whom he had formed bonds with.

“I’m a Christian man. I read my bible everyday,” said Wright. “I am by no means a racist. That video does not show the true picture of me.”

Todd apologized for his actions but the public demanded for a resignation.

“If it’s in your heart, in your mind and you say it, you mean it,” said McLemore. “What you did on that video brought a world of separation.”

The Arkansas County Quorum Court passed a resolution requesting the resignation of Arkansas County Sheriff Todd Wright unanimously. The resolution stated his conduct was detrimental for him to perform his duties.

Arkansas County Judge Eddie Best made it known to the public the court did not have the authority to fire Wright and could only request him to resign.

‘The guy he was speaking of, that’s my nephew’

As the floor opened for public comment family and friends of Clark addressed Wright with hurt in their voices and pain in their hearts.

“The guy he was speaking of, that’s my nephew,” said Betty Wofford. “He wouldn’t come here today. He doesn’t like this kind of stuff but he’s hurt.”

Wofford described her nephew as a family man, who works two jobs.

“I don’t believe anything you just said. You have to say this stuff because you want to keep your job,” said Wofford who also expressed how Wright has not engaged himself with the community of DeWitt in his position as Sheriff.

“I don’t feel that was right for you to call him out of his name like that,” she said stating her son hasn’t been back to work due to hurt and embarrassment. “I do wish that you would resign or get fired.”

The media attention of the viral recording reached millions of ears, attracting the attention of civil rights leaders and national activist abroad.

Jackie Smith, a native of Little Rock, Arkansas, is a national activist by way of Atlanta, Chicago and New York, known for her works for equality and justice for people of color.

Traveling to Arkansas earlier that morning, she told Wright if he didn’t want people coming to the city to protest, he needed to resign immediately.

“I traveled a long ways to let you know Todd, it’s unacceptable,” she said. “You wonder why we riot. You wonder why we loot – because you’re teaching us what hate is. That is not what we want to do.”

“We want your resignation today,” Smith said. 

“Mr. Wright, you need to resign today but beyond that, the policing in this county has to be totally changed,” said Arkansas County Attorney Furonda Brasfield, who is pushing to get a county investigation by the FBI for the alleged corrupt system of law enforcement in Arkansas County. “If the head is poisonous, you have to look at the whole body.”

Wright initially said he was not going to resign.

“I’ve said things that I shouldn’t of said but as far as racism, I don’t condone it,” said Wright.

Spectators in the audience could be heard shouting, “just resign and get it over with” but Wright was adamant about his position causing the majority of the audience to leave in the middle of the meeting.

A window view outside the courtroom displayed protesting in the front lawn of the courthouse..

Inside the courtroom, a Black mother with a white husband stated her daughter had spent the night at Wright’s home with his niece said she has witnessed the same racial antics.

“I’m praying you go get some help and stop using the devil as an excuse,” she said.

  

‘Lay that badge down, lay that gun down’

One by one, emotional comments swayed the energy in the courtroom. Wright’s body language changed from an unbothered slouch to an attentive and direct as his eyes began to well with tears.

With a change of heart, Wright announced he would resign in a month. But a former DeWitt police officer kept pressure on him to resign immediately.

“Todd, I’ve known you all my life. You need to take that badge and (set) it on that table and walk out of here Todd,” said former officer Bobby Webb, who said he has known Wright for decades. “You know I love you, but you screwed up. Lay that badge down, lay that gun down and walk out of here.”

Floored to tears, Wright surrendered his badge and gun and embraced Webb.

A remorseful Wright announced his resignation, effective immediately.